Draper • For 27 years, Greg Roberts and Kim Salazar have endured one disappointment after another in their quest for justice in their mother's disappearance and death.
On Tuesday, it was more of the same.
Doug Lovell, who is serving a 15-to-life sentence for raping Joyce Yost, and also is charged with capital murder in her 1985 slaying, was a no-show at his first hearing before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. Hearing Officer Jan Nicols addressed an empty chair as she recounted Lovell's lengthy criminal history and rape of their mother, with Roberts and Salazar listening from the audience seats.
Lovell had served time on probation and in prison for various crimes, including burglary, theft and aggravated robbery before his attack on Yost. He kidnapped and raped her in April 1985, assaulting her first in her car and then again at his home. She testified about the rape at a preliminary hearing but then disappeared in August 1985.
Prosecutors went ahead with the rape trial, using Yost's prior testimony to convict Lovell in 1985. He was charged with her murder in 1992 and pleaded guilty to the crime a year later, explaining he had murdered Yost to prevent her from testifying at the rape trial. Lovell claimed he buried Yost, who was 39, in the Ogden Valley, and, as part of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to not pursue the death penalty if he led them to her grave.
Despite a search, her body was not found and he was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death. In July 2010, however, the Utah Supreme Court ruled he should have received better counsel from his attorney, allowing Lovell to withdraw the guilty plea and pursue a new trial. That trial is set to begin Feb. 3.
Roberts said he was surprised that Lovell, 54, declined to attend the hearing.
"It seems like any chance he has to show up at a hearing or be in public he generally does," said Roberts, 49, who was 21 when his mom disappeared.
Salazar and Roberts decided not to speak during the brief hearing, though they submitted letters to be considered as the board weighs an appropriate term for the rape conviction.
Outside in a parking lot at the Utah State Prison, they shared their frustration at the seemingly endless machinations that have made it difficult to find closure.
"He has admitted all the details under oath, so it's just a difficult part of the system that, I guess, we consider a setback," Roberts said. "But I think it will get back on track once he has another trial. Same set of facts."
Salazar was more blunt.
"For the Supreme Court to push everything back, it's unfathomable," she said. "He confessed. He got on the stand and confessed how, when, why and now we go back to square one. I don't get it."
The prospect of a second trial is daunting, she said.
"You don't want to go through your mother's murder trial once, let alone twice," Salazar said. "I don't know how you put that into words. It should never happen."
And it's not just one more trial. Prosecutors have said they may again seek the death penalty, which typically triggers decades of appeals.
"I have a hard time with it just because, I mean, I agree that it should be on the table, but at the same time just knowing what having the death penalty on the table means for us as a family and anybody else that is facing it as well I have a really hard time with it just because it is such a long, drawn out process, it doesn't end, it never goes away," Salazar said. "If there were life without the possibility of parole, we wouldn't be hearing from him at this point. This wouldn't have happened."